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Becoming Billie Holiday

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  319 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Before the legend of Billie Holiday, there was a girl named Eleanora. In 1915, Sadie Fagan gave birth to a daughter she named Eleanora. The world, however, would know her as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Eleanora's journey into legend took her through pain, poverty, and run-ins with the law. By the time she was fifteen, she knew she possess ...more
Hardcover, 120 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by WordSong
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4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  319 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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Jan 14, 2015 added it
Shelves: february, january
This book is a collection of over 100 wonderful poems. Eleanora Fagan better known as Billie Holiday, had a very tough life. Carole Boston Weatherford catches a lot of the little details and aspects of Billie Holiday's life and is able to put them into a series of amusing poems.

I first picked up this book because I was looking for a poem for a poetry assignment.

I finished reading this book because after I had found the poem I was looking for, I read more of Weatherford's poems. I got hooked on
Read this striking collection of poetry while listening to a Billie Holiday record, preferably something from her earlier years. I chose The Quintessential Billie Holiday Columbia Jazz Compilation 1933-1935 (Vol 1) on vinyl.

Electrifying, my friends. Electrifying

(So ends the shortest review I've ever written.)
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Publisher and Date: Wordsong, 2008

Summary: This is a collection of over 100 poems written about Eleanor, other wise known as Billie Holiday. Almost all the poems Weatherford wrote in this book are titled with titles from songs Billie Holiday wrote and sang. Although Billie Holiday is known as one of the greatest jazz singers, these poems brutally describe the hardships of molestation, poverty, and hard work that brought her to not only the spotlight but to become
Mar 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It is told in verse and also has illustrations throughout it, but the way the story is told is so captivating that I couldn't stop reading!
This follows a African-American young girl who grows up in a difficult situation: her mother got pregnant really young and couldn't take care of he. Her pregnancy was shameful on the family, so there was no one to take care of "Billie" when she was a baby. She went from family to family, and ended up getting herself in a lot of tro
Linda Lipko
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Found in the young adult section of the library, as I was reading this book, I felt the cover should have notations that the some of the subject matter contained adult content.

No doubt about it, the life of Eleanora Fagan was exceedingly difficult. Finding her voice and learning to accept the praise took her on a journey with joys and sorrows. Discarding her birth name given by her unwedded mother, she took the last name of her father, also a musician, and became Billie Holiday, who was most lik
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Julie M. Prince for

Billie Holiday does not have a happy life story. After all, she sang the blues for a reason. A biography written in verse seems only appropriate for a woman who lived her life in song -- whose only reliable escape was via music.

Weatherford uses Holiday songs as poem titles throughout the book, which, in addition to the first person perspective, serves to bring the reader close to the narrative. While the story of Holiday's life is disturbing, Weat
Ashley Green
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: libs-642
Billie Holiday's life is chronicled by Carole Boston Weatherford's poetry in this collection. We learn about Eleanora Fagan's parents and early life, and follow her through her turbulent teen years, moving from Baltimore to Philly to the place where she felt drawn - Harlem and finally became Billie Holiday. A creation all her own, these heartfelt poems convey a sense of rebellion, independence, and longing - all of which we hear through Holiday's songs. Tackling hard issues head on - like a sexu ...more
Ch_beth Rice
Jan 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: picture-books
Becoming Billie Holiday takes readers on the journey of Eleanora Fagan as she transformed from a troubled youth into jazz musician Billie Holiday. Carole Boston Weatherford beautifully tells the singer’s fictional memoir through free verse poems. Weatherford’s words are beautifully enhanced with the dramatic art of Floyd Cooper. I recommend using this book with older students as it describes events in Eleanora’s life from rape and reform school to racial segregation. The story will lead to deep ...more
Lindsey Bangert
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: juvenile, verse
A good biography, notable for not shying away from the adult situations in Billie ' life, including rape, prostitution, and arrest, all by age 14. The verse makes it easy to read and the focus on her early life makes it fast paced. It might make a good companion to Navigating Early for readers looking to know more about the singer, who is mentioned repeatedly. Unfortunately, though good quality, the muted colors of the pictures may not appeal much to young readers, though they do match the often ...more
Mary Loucks-Cummings
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teen-lit
Defined in the afterword as a "fictional verse memoir [] first person poems titled after her songs," Becoming Billie Holiday is a beautiful book of poetry that collectively tells of Holiday's tragic young life. The text ends a little abruptly, and I wish it gone further into her life into adulthood. Side note - Best read with Billie's tracks playing in the background. ;)
Suzanne Dix
What a tragic yet talented woman Billie Holiday was! This short, free verse biography is beautifully written and doesn't shy away from all the grit and grime in Billie's young life: rape, working in a brothel, abandonment by her father, transient living...Talk about rising up!

Grades 8 and up.
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
Outstanding poems and beautiful illustrations.
Charlene Doland
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely biography in verse.
Karyn Buchanan
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The poetry comes off the page as the reader travels back in time to meet “Lady Day.” Her life was a song that had to be sung, and her strength, talent, and journey are awe-inspiring.
Aaron Wertlieb
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Did not know it was a juvenile book. It was good and if I were younger in high and looking for a book about jazz singers this was fine. Laid out in an interesting way
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
She begins her journey as Eleanora Fagin. Born into poverty to a single mother in 1915 Philadelphia, disregarded by her father, and raised by a myriad of Baltimore relatives, Eleanora overcomes staggering obstacles to become the incomparable Billie Holiday. Weatherford recounts this biography in verse and presents a revealing account of a young girl, who suffers rape, reform school, prostitution, and jail all before her fifteenth birthday. The poems are told in first-person, using the names of B ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
I find it interesting that all of the Coretta Scott King Author Honor books are poetry, a genre that some students find difficult, but also a genre that can express strong feelings in a few well-chosen words.
In Becoming Billie Holiday, author Carol Boston Weatherford explains in her author note, 'the young woman who speaks through these poems is Billie Holiday, before heroin and hard living took their toll.' This fictional memoir begins with Billie, or rather, Eleanora's birth in 1915 and ends
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Some of the poems in this verse biography are stunning, many simply tell the story in first person. It's fictionalized, but in a way everything about Lady Day is fictionalized, and this is just one of the books that admits it. Poems are titled after songs & include lots of references to other names in jazz, swing, film, and stage. The author included bios of these other figures in the back, as well as a bit of biographical info on Billie's later life. Illustrated, too.

I was surprised the lib
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Becoming Billie Holiday is a unique biography of iconic jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday. This is not your typical non-fiction book. This text tells Holiday’s story through beautiful narrative poetry and stunning, colorful illustrations. Though this looks like a picture book for younger students, the content is geared toward older students creating a nice balance to the run-of-the-mill trade books used to teach history. Reluctant readers will be drawn to the illustrations, and the poetic for ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Becoming Billie Holiday is an interesting way to pull together Eleanora Fagan's life, from her rough childhood to the famous artist she becomes. Carole Boston Weatherford created these poems based on the events of Billie's life.

The developmental areas that are addressed consist of growing up during the depression, rape, poverty, prostitution, growing up without a father, as well as various other struggles along her way to fame. Teens will definitely be able to relate to many of these issues. I
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, young-adult
Becoming Billie Holiday is a verse novel telling the story of Billie Holiday's early life, leading up to her performance of "Strange Fruit" at the Café Society. The book includes some 100 free-verse poems, each bearing the name of one of Holiday's songs (because as quoted in the epigraph, "she didn't sing anything unless she had lived it"), and some absolutely breathtaking artwork by Floyd Cooper.

I don't know how I feel, on a personal level, about verse novels. The problem I have with the ones I
Roxanne Hsu Feldman
This collection is definitely a bit uneven. Not all poems are superb but there are enough with poetic success to pull me through, with interest and enjoyment. Unfortunately, nice lines like this is not commonplace for this title: p. 49 a suitcase full of hard luck

There are, in my view, too many ready-made phrases (cliches) that show a certain amount of laziness on the poet's part like "I was the cat's meow." (p. 41 bottom of page) or "hot enough to fry an egg" (p.45).

I did feel that I got to kn
Andrew Miller
This dark depressing book is definitely meant for an older audience. The front pages are important, as they suggest the time when this story takes place, the old fashion cars are dated around the 20’s or 30’s, giving a historical hint as to what should be expected. An earthy texture is used as the background to the text based pages. Every few pages there’s a very dark realistic illustration, powerfully showing the struggles the girl went through during this time of prejudice. The final page befo ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Carole Boston Weatherford is a class act. I don't know if there's anything I can say which will do this poet justice. How hard it must have been to to detail the emotional ups and downs of Billie Holiday's life when there's no actual way of getting into Billy Holiday's skin. The middle of this book dragged a bit for me, but the beginning and ending were brilliant.

This poem, wow:

With Thee I Swing

Racism ripped America at the seams,
and jazz stitched the nation together
one song at a time. But music
Heather Hintze
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
1. Genre Young Adult Fictional Verse
2. Award (if applicable) Coretta Scott King Award
3. Star Rating 5
4. Grade level (s) 9-12th grade
5. Evaluation: This book is a really fun read as it flows beautifully. It is a fictional verse memoir; however it is based on the rough early years of a Eleanora, a talented girl who eventually (as reflected in the book) became known as Billie Holiday, possibly the greatest jazz singer of all time. Because this book contains MANY harsh real topics (such as prostitu
Chester Richmond
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: notable-art
This book contains poems and songs that depict Billie Holiday’s life through song and prose. The text was compiled by Carole Weatherford and the Illustrations done by Floyd Cooper. Early on Cooper paints a beautiful picture of the young Billie. As the book progresses she ages and we get to see situations she had to deal with and her dreams through the paintings that appear every ten pages or so. The paintings all have a faded quality to them and many are paintings in the night time so they are i ...more
Sarah BT
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I have never been a big biography fan, but this book impressed me. I love novels written in verse and I thought the idea to write a biography in verse worked out wonderfully.

Many of the poems have the feel of a jazz song that Ms. Holiday could be singing. The illustrations are sepia-toned and worked well with the book-they had a smokey feel and made you feel like you were in a jazz club with Ms. Holiday. I really felt as though Ms. Holiday was there with you sharing her life story.

I really enj
Jan 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, teeny-bopper
I have mixed feelings about this book. Billie Holiday is one of my favorite singers, her voice moves me, so maybe I had unrealistic expectations for this book. Or maybe because this is a teen book, the author didn't really want to delve into the darkness that was in her life. There is absolutely no mention of herion addiction in the poems whatsoever. In the author's note at the end, Weatherford mentions it, and says that she wanted to tell a story about Billie before drugs darkened her life. Hmm ...more
May 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I feel like “experience” is a truly fitting adjective for this text. I would actually recommend it to children and adults alike, not only because of the richness in historical value, but also because the stories of Holiday’s life that are told through this medium create a rich experience for all readers.

I believe, however, that Weatherford’s most phenomenal accomplishment with the text is that it communicates the story in a very similar way to the songs and jazz style of Billie Holiday—her sign
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Carole Boston Weatherford is a children's book author and poet who "mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." A number of Weatherford's books tell the stories of African-American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Billie Holiday. Other books recount historical events such as the Greensboro Sit-ins and the bombing of the Sixteenth Stree ...more